The Open is played on nine links courses around the UK coast. The links landscape is relatively rare and many links courses fall within or are adjacent to environmental designated areas. These designations are the country's very best wildlife and geological sites. As such they receive legal protection and government agencies are responsible for ensuring they are properly managed. In England, this is the responsibility of Natural England (NE), whilst Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) performs this role North of the Border.
Presenting an Open Championship involves installing and then dismantling a lot of infrastructure and managing large crowds of spectators who come to watch the world’s best golfers challenge for the Claret Jug. This could pose a threat to the landscape and wildlife at Open venues but, as the following examples demonstrate, The R&A engages with Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage and enjoys a close working relationship to ensure that the natural environment is protected.
At Turnberry, the dune system of Turnberry Bay and the rocky coastline at Turnberry Point (the location of the famous lighthouse) are Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The R&A’s engagement with SNH has made sure that the routing of underground cables and spectator pathways does nothing to damage the integrity of these areas.
The course at Royal St George’s is within the Sandwich Bay Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and the Sandwich Bay to Hacklinge Marshes SSSI. The golf club is restricted as to what it can do on the SSSI land and has entered into an agreement with Natural England which sets out the permitted management and development activities on the golf course. St George’s is famous for its coastal grassland systems and the refuge these provide for some of the country’s rarest plants and insects, including lizard orchid, man orchid, clove scented broomrape, pygmy footman moth, restharrow moth and bright wave moth. The R&A engages with NE to plot careful routing of spectators during an Open ensures that the grasslands are protected and the foot traffic across more fertile grassland helps thin this out, providing an opportunity for a wider variety of plants to colonise once the Championship has moved on.“
Careful routing of spectators during an Open ensures that the grasslands are protected
Royal Birkdale is one of the most ecologically sensitive courses that hosts The Open. It lies within the Sefton Coast SAC and the Club has developed a close working relationship with Natural England, the Environment Agency and local conservation groups to enhance the environment for rarities such as the natterjack toad, great crested newt, sand lizard and marsh helleborine orchid. The R&A engages with the existing partnership and co-operates to ensure that Royal Birkdale’s conservation efforts are not side-tracked when an Open Championship is held on the Southport links.
The host for the 2014 Open Championship, Hoylake, lies within a series of fixed dune grasslands, the western section of which, the Red Rocks, has been designated as a SSSI. The coastline in this part of England provides one of the major strongholds in the UK for natterjack toads, an amphibian that is protected by schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and which is listed under Appendix II of the Bern Convention and Annex IV of the EC Habitats Directive. For the Opens in 2006 and 2014, The R&A has collaborated with Natural England to set in place a survey and monitoring strategy to determine the activity of natterjacks. A methodology for the management of risks to natterjack toads during the construction, operation and breakdown of The Open infrastructure has been agreed. This provides greenstaff, contractors, marshalls and security staff with detailed instructions on what to do to protect individual animals and their habitat. A member of the greenstaff will be trained and licensed to handle errant natterjacks, so this designated Toad Manager can take any toad wandering into a dangerous situation back to the sanctuary of the dune slacks within the Red Rocks SSSI.
All of The R&A’s dealings with the government advisory agencies have been based on a co-operative relationship and an understanding of the desire to protect the environment during the hosting of one of the largest international sporting events.